BRASA Announces the Winners of the 2019 Roberto Reis Book Prize

2019 Roberto Reis Book Award Winners

Jessica Graham

Shifting the Meaning of Democracy: Race, Politics, and Culture in the United States and Brazil. Oakland, California, University of California Press, 2019.

Shifting the Meaning of Democracy is a historiographical study based on a careful search of archives and a vast domain of intellectual production over the studied period. The author faces one of the most certain premises of comparative studies on Brazil and the United States: its opposition in racial terms. It is a work with many contributions. It brings an essential reflection of a relevant historical period (1930-1945) on the theme of democracy in both countries, innovates about the importance of the relationship between race and politics in the analyzed period. The book covers a series of important historical facts in both countries, identifying not only alliances but common strategies about racial issues bringing new lights on our understanding about race, nation and democracy in both nations.

Rebecca Tarlau

Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education. New York, Oxford University Press, 2019.

In Occupying Schools, Occupying Land, Rebecca Tarlau offers a history and a political ethnography of the educational initiatives of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) from the 1980’s to 2013. She argues that the MST’s educational initiatives have been combining contentious political actions with the strategic occupation of state institutions in order to pursue its goals of social transformation. In other words, she shows that MST’s educational struggles and achievements suggest that “social movements can increase their internal capacity by strategically engaging institutions.” The book is based on a truly impressive research effort, which included twenty months of immersion in the daily activities of the movement’s educational collectives, more than two hundred in-depth interviews with activists and state actors, and hundreds of other primary and secondary sources including correspondences, government laws and decrees, textbooks, newspaper articles, conference programs, flyers, and an array of other sources.


Oscar de la Torre

The People of the River: Nature and Identity in Black Amazonia, 1835-1945. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

The People of the River charts the understudied lives and livelihoods of Afro-descendant peasants in the Brazilian Amazon from the mid-nineteenth century through the Second World War, highlighting the birth and elaboration of Black, rural, and agriculturally grounded identities that manifested distinctly in response to local demographics and ecologies, sociopolitical priorities, and economic pressures that were constantly in flux. Eschewing the all-encompassing, social scientific and popular discourses of mestiçagem that have often served to erase Black, indigenous, and other minority communities from Brazil’s national landscapes and historiographies, de la Torre’s Afro-Amazonian subjects comprised radically heterogeneous communities who understood and expressed their individual and collective agency in intimate symbiosis with the natural world. De la Torre’s reliance on field research, archival materials, personal interviews, as well as a wide range of published primary and secondary sources in order to recount these fascinating and well-crafted stories is a remarkable achievement.



Slave Emancipation and Transformations in Brazilian Political Citizenship. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016.

Many scholars have written about the abolition of slavery in Brazil, but much of the literature on slave emancipation has focused on who, why, and when.  In this excellent and innovative study of the abolitionist movement in Pernambuco, Celso Castilho takes the discussion in an important new direction, focusing on the way the mobilization to end human enslavement in Brazil stretched the boundaries of the public sphere and animated new debates about citizenship and national belonging.  These debates, in turn, impacted the course of the emancipation process, but also prompted elites clinging to their slave-based power to respond in ways that delayed abolition and dismissed the political claims of women, the poor, and people of color, enslaved and free.  This book is both a crucial contribution to the historiography of slave emancipation in Brazil and a critical source for understanding the limited definitions of freedom and citizenship that shaped the post-emancipation order.

2017 Christopher Dunn

Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Christopher Dunn’s Contracultura: Alternative Arts and Social Transformation in Authoritarian Brazil provides a heretofore unprecedented exploration of the Brazilian countercultural movement from its inception in the late 1960s through the late 1970s. With particular attention to class, gender, race, sexuality, and their intersections, Dunn offers sharp analyses and rich descriptions of the varied ways that artists, intellectuals, and youth disrupted the visions of not only authoritarian military leaders but also leftist establishments. With careful attention to the incomplete and ephemeral sensibilities of musicians, writers, dancers, and others, Dunn reveals the more consequential impact of the countercultural turn of the 1970s on everyday Brazilian cultural production and civil society.

2017 honorable mention TIANNA PASCHEL

Becoming Black Political Subjects: Movements and Ethno-Racial Rights in Colombia and Brazil. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

Tianna Paschel’s book, Becoming Black Political Subjects, offers a ground-breaking analysis that demystifies the layered factors that catalyzed the development of ethno-racial legislation in Brazil and Colombia. Most distinctively, Paschel relies on a sophisticated conceptual frame and a multi-leveled approach that draws on ethnographic research and archival data to both center the agency of black activists and highlight how the alignment of diverse political fields (global and local) were critical factors in the emergence of black political subjectivity. Paschel’s book represents a rigorous model of comparative race analysis with clear significance for Brazil and beyond.


The Color of Modernity: São Paulo and the Making of Race and Nation in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

This scintillating book traces the history of the idea that São Paulo constituted a singularly modern, economically dynamic, and predominantly white region that embodied Brazil at its best. Through extraordinarily fine-grained research into key episodes in twentieth-century paulista history, Weinstein shows how paulistas deployed this image at different times to uphold the state’s preeminent position in the nation, often at the expense of other regions. One of the book’s powerful insights is to conceive of nation and region, as well as whiteness and racial democracy, not as opposites or antagonists but as imperfectly complementary constructs. In so doing, Weinstein breaks new ground in explaining the reproduction and persistence of racial and socioeconomic inequalities—and their spatial dimensions—in a “racially democratic” Brazil over the long twentieth century. This is a book that will shape the scholarship on race, region, nation, and inequality in Latin America and beyond for decades to come.


Amazonian Routes: Indigenous Mobility and Colonial Communities in Northern Brazil. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014.

This is a game-changing book. Beautifully written, marvelously understated, Heather Roller’s book offers a persuasive new interpretation of the interactions between the Portuguese empire and the indigenous populations of the Amazon in the late colonial era. Breaking with longstanding conventional views of native Amazonians fleeing imperial power ever deeper into the forest, Heather Roller makes the compelling argument, based on heretofore untapped sources, that the native peoples of the Amazon used the imperial state almost as much as the imperial state used them. Roller’s book forces us to rethink much of what we thought we knew about state-indigenous relations, not only in Brazil, but in much of Latin America and the world – – and not only then, but today as well. A tour de force of scholarship and the historical imagination.

2015 Honorable Mention REBECCA J. ATENCIO

Memorys Turn: Reckoning with Dictatorship in Brazil. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.

With Memorys Turn, Rebecca Atencio makes a timely and incisive intervention in ongoing debates surrounding the culture and politics of transitional justice in Brazil. After decades of “institutionalized forgetting” that effectively closed the books on the crimes of the military dictatorship, the Brazilian government established a National Truth Commission in 2011 to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by agents of the regime. Atencio’s study shows how cultural products, including novels, testimonies, films, and television dramas, have impacted Brazil’s “turn to memory.” She offers an elegant and transferable theoretical model for understanding the relationship between “cycles of cultural memory” and institutional mechanisms designed to address past crimes and injustices.

The Roberto Reis BRASA Book Award recognizes the two best books in Brazilian Studies published in English that contribute significantly to promoting an understanding of Brazil. The award honors Roberto Reis, one of the founders of BRASA, who was committed to developing Brazilian Studies in the United States.


For a book to be considered for the award, its author must be a member of BRASA and up-to-date in dues.

The book must have been published in English between January 2020 and December 2021.

The author of the book must submit a cover sheet by e-mail to the BRASA Secretariat at, and submit a printed copy of the cover sheet and a copy of the book directly to each member of the committee.

The submission deadline will be December 1, 2021. (Note: Books published in December 2021 may be submitted by December 31, 2021.) The committee will make decisions on the awards, plus any honorable mentions. The Secretariat will send a letter to the winners and announce the winners through the BRASA website and digest by February 15, 2022. Announcement of the winners will also be made at the next BRASA XV International Conference at Georgetown University, March 9-12, 2022